It was the best of weekends, it was the worst of weekends – Porscherama 2005

By Rob Fusi

 

What could be more fun than getting a bunch of great friends together for two days of playing Porsche and experiencing nearly every event offered by the Porsche Club of America?  On paper, it sounded perfect.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong?  Exactly…nothing.

 

Porscherama consists of 5 different events including autocross (which is essentially a mini time trial), drivers ed, rally, concours, and a time trial.  During a two day period, there is more track time, show time, country drive time, and eating time (okay, maybe not eating time) than you could possibly ever use.  The GTC & friends planned to do everything, stopping briefly for hydration and bathroom breaks.

 

My personal saga began about a week before the event, when I discovered a transmission leak.  I changed my weekend plans around, and swapped out a seal during a Sunday afternoon with the help of Alvaro Gil.  “Disaster averted,” I thought, as a few days of driving the car proved the leak to be fixed!  Woohoo!

 

In attendance were Rob Fusi (me), Shawn Crews, Alvaro Gil, Adam Crews, Mike Davis, John Agogliati, Bob Wonsetler, and all of the associated lovely ladies.  For some of the crew, the festivities began on Thursday night for wings and $3 pitchers at Shawn & Sara’s house, followed by a half-hearted day of work the next day.  Friday evening, the gang began assembling at S&S’s house for a bit of last minute car repair.  I simply wanted to wash my car in preparation for the concours competition (that’s all the preparation need for one of those things, right?), while Al planned to install a harness bar in his targa, Shawn had to test his newly changed & bled brake lines, and Adam decided to snap his rear sway bar…so changing it seemed like a good idea.  Ah, there’s nothing like absolute last minute, critical repairs.

 

Sara, me, Shawn, and Lynette at wing night

 

 

We finished the car washing just as the sun went down, so check that one off the list.  Next up was a test drive of Shawn’s 944 turbo, as Al & he changed the brake lines & bled the system earlier that week.  A quick test drive uncovered an unacceptably squishy pedal, so we hit the garage to begin the bleeding process. Meanwhile, Al & Adam showed up around 8ish.  After a bit of pizza & beverage consumption, Shawn & I bled the brakes on the turbo while Al swapped in his harness bar, and Adam performed under-car surgery to his Boxster, using the trailer as his lift.  An hour or two later, the cars were all ready, just in time for Porscherama.  What fun is the night before the event without emergency repairs, right?

 

Heading out for a test drive in Cicada after brake bleed #2

 

 

The 5am departure the next morning was quite unpleasant, but at least it was not pouring like our friendly neighborhood weather forecasts predicted.  The roads were damp enough to spray dirt all over the freshly washed cars, but other than that it was uneventful.  Arrival and registration was typical, with the exception of Al insisting that we tech the cars as soon as possible, as we were running out of time.  That was at 6am.  Needless to say, this was Al’s first event ;)

 

The gang leaving…it’s friggin’ early

 

 

The morning meeting was the first order of business, and the gang all gathered together to hear the words of wisdom from the powers at be.  There was some side chatter, much of which literally brought tears to our eyes, but I cannot go into detail in this public format…you’ll have to ask Davis, Ags, Michelle, or perhaps permanently scarred Al.  The Crews brothers were out of harm’s way.

 

The great Ags at the driver’s meeting

 

 

After the meeting, we performed another emergency brake bleeding on Shawn’s 944 turbo, as his ABS light came on during the drive to the track and the brakes felt mushy again.  I’m beginning to hate brake fluid.

 

The day progresses and I try to get my hands into all of the wonderful pots of Porsche fun.  First I went out on the South Course (which was open lapping) to play with my brand new suspension.  I always forget how steep that banking is on the bowl, especially since it’s been about 4 years since I drove on that part of the track!  The handling was decent, but there was far too much oversteer.  Alas, I accounted for it and headed right over to the North course for the black group.  After a couple of laps, I realized there was simply too much oversteer to safely drive the car, so I pitted and changed my swaybar settings.  Off to the South Course again for testing, and the car was wonderfully neutral.  Unfortunately, my speedometer was acting up…the first sign of bad things to come for me.  When on the throttle, it would read normal speed, but when off the throttle it would drop to 0.  This made my car the world’s fastest accelerating car from 0 to 120mph in about .5 seconds.  Beat that.

 

Mike Davis & Ags in the autocross line

 

 

Michelle & me waiting to head out on the autocross course for the parade lap

 

 

Ags & Davis with their colorful numbering scheme

 

 

What else is there to do?!  Well, I haven’t been on the autocross course, yet!  I rolled over there and sat in the line for what felt like forever, but what was probably ½ hour.  During my first run, I think I hit all of the cones.  After all, I wanted to get my money’s worth ;).  I hit at least 3 of them right in front of Davis, Ags, and Michelle, which always leads to congratulations and motivational speeches later...either that or they never let you live it down!

 

Into the pits I went, and chatted with Al, Shawn, and Adam for a bit.  Meanwhile, they went out for their first track run and their excitement was uncontainable.  (Shawn was on the track at one other event, but he showed the same signs of enthusiasm).  The funniest part is how these previously “autocross only” guys quickly shunned autocross, and planned on skipping the autocross for the entire event and focusing only on track.  It does not take long for the track bug to take hold!  Al actually did a couple of runs, as did Adam, but Shawn held to his word!

 

Adam’s Boxster overlooking the “autocross” course

 

 

It was now about 11:15am, and you had to have your car on the front straight by 12 in order to compete in the concours.  I figured I had enough time for one more quick autocross run, so I shot over there and waited...and waited…and waited some more.  At 11:50 I finally started my run.  The autocross course was a lot of fun, similar to last year.  It is based off of the East Course, which is typically used as a motorcycle course.  For autocross, they scatter cones throughout the course to slow you down and to give the flaggers something to do.  Rather than just sitting there all day, they have the joy of sprinting out to the course whenever one of the many cones is knocked over.  There seemed like a lot more cones than last year, including the longest slalom known to man.  There were so many cones in the slalom on the back straight that my arms started to get tired by the end…it must have been ¼ mile of pure slalom. 

 

Alvaro tearing up the autocross course

 

 

Nevertheless, I get back to the pits at 11:55, which leaves me about 3 minutes to detail my car after about 45 minutes of track driving, two autocross runs, and countless cone marks all over the car.  I figured that most of the other cars at the concours would be in similar condition to mine, since everyone would be driving their cars like mad on the track all morning.  While I don’t know how many of them drove that morning, I can tell you that I had about the grungiest car in the entire line-up.  Fortunately, Al also rolled his tar-filled car over to the concours to make my car look a little less out of place.  Before anyone could associate us with the dirty cars, we ran for cover to the Rally School.  After 15 minutes of that, we figured we pretty much knew everything we needed to know, and headed off to the lunch area where we were pleasantly greeted by Sara and Chris with wonderful sandwiches.  Meanwhile, Ags, Mike, and Michelle consumed their sandwiches and fancy chips and were on a mission to find a ride around the track for Michelle. 

 

Concours competition - don’t worry, that’s concours grade racer’s tape

 

 

At least Al’s car was even more tracked-up than mine at the concours!

 

 

Busy, busy, busy was the theme of day 1.  Right after lunch, we talked Bob into taking Michelle out for a run, and I also headed out for the black run group.  I drove for about 4-5 laps with the transmission acting increasingly oddly.  It started making odd sounds and the speedometer was even more flukey.  At one point I shifted into second and it make a loud BANG, so I immediately pitted. I drove around in pit lane for a little while and it seemed fine, so I went back out on the track for a lap.  Unfortunately, someone’s throttle got stuck open in one of the sharp rights and didn’t fair too well in the spin.  The black flag brought us all in, and that was the end for me. 

 

I drove to the autocross course for another run and noticed the transmission was a lot noisier than normal.  I pulled into the pics, peeked under the car, and noticed the transmission was leaking from the same seal as before, and the same seal on the opposite side had also started to weep.  My initial thought was that too much fluid leaked out, and the transmission was unhappy.  I made an emergency Swepco 201 purchase at the Powertech stand while Al transformed a water bottle into a transmission fluid filling gadget.  I pumped fluid in and hoped all was well.

 

Emergency trackside Swepco 201 filling procedure

 

 

I headed over to the autocross, waited in a long ass line, and did a decent run, but hit a couple of cones at the end.  At least I avoided the other 159 on the course ;).  The transmission sounded funny in the pits and was giving me a bit of problems shifting on the course, but I wanted to squeeze in one more run, since I needed at least one clean run.  Well, I made a conservative run and got that wish to end up with a 92.xx clean, which I was happy with considering my sick transmission.  There were a few more seconds out there to claim, as I felt like I had a high 80’s in me.  Apparently, it wouldn’t happen at this event, as you’ll discover.  That’s racin’.

 

Apparently, the fluid level was not the issue.  While sitting in line for one more autocross run, I turned the car off while they retrieved a cone that was dragged from the beginning of the course through the ENTIRE course, and finished with a large cloud of white smoke as the tortured cone continued its journey, melting away (nice one, Sharmilla ;)).  Okay, it was time to start again.  Click.  Click.  Click.  The car only clicked when I turned the key.  After a few attempts & what not of diagnosis, a couple of people pushed it off into the grass, as poor TP was disgraced. 

 

After I wandered back (on foot) to the pits, I heard more stories from Al, Shawn, and Adam about how great the track is.  Meanwhile, Mike Davis was setting record times in Ags’ 993, dipping into the mid 90’s.  Ags commented a lot on how stable and smooth the car felt.  It’s always nice to have confidence and “like” the car you’re driving. 

 

Back in the pits, Shawn’s turbo needed its 4th bleeding in 48 hours, and the greenies were all still giddy with excitement.  At this point it was 4pm, and there were a million things to do which included bleeding Shawn’s brakes, retrieving my broken-down jalopy from the grassy knoll, and packing up and starting the rally…all by 4:30pm.  Hmm…how is this possible?  We bled half of Shawn’s brakes, and then left the other side to Shawn, Sara, and Chris (Adam’s lovely lady friend) while Al & I attempted recovery of the orange machine.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Ags & I attempted to jump start TP earlier in the day without success.  One more turn of the key yielded another “click”, “click”, “click”.  I recruited a few very helpful flaggers to push start the car, because as strong as Al looks, he was not able to push my car down the track on his own.  When I released the clutch, there was clanking and a loud BANG from the transmission as the car was forced to life.  TP did not like the defibrillation process, but at least we limped him back to the pits. 

 

Not quite the picture of happiness with the stranded Twisted Pumpkin

 

 

It was then 4:29, and we had one minute to leave for the rally, or all hope for an overall win was lost.  Before heading off to the rally, I became somewhat frazzled due to the broken nature of my car and the extreme time pressure.  I put all of my stuff in the 911 and locked the doors, ensuring to roll up the windows in case it rains overnight.  Well, let’s say all of my stuff inside the car was very safe…including my keys, which were also locked inside.  UGH!!!!  Screw it, “I’ll deal with it tomorrow,” I thought.  I sent Al over to check in while I retrieved our rally vehicle…Shawn & Sara’s Jetta.  Al stalled the rally starter while I slapped some magnetic numbers on our new race car, and off we went!

 

The rally was wonderfully pleasant, with rolling Pocono country roads and signs everyplace for some haunted hayride.  Since my 911 broke and I had no chance of winning anything, any competitive zest dwindled and actually made for a much more enjoyable and relaxing rally.  We were perhaps the least-prepared rally team there, as we didn’t even have a watch, let alone a watch with a second hand or a stopwatch.  We used the digital clock in the car as a very, very rough gauge of time.  One of the very first instructions was to stop at a stop sign, and pause for 30 seconds.  As previously mentioned, we had no way of measuring 30 seconds, so I started counting.  Then Al started counting, but he counted a whole lot differently than me.  Al counted, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10…1, 2, 3…. and each one of those increments was supposed to be 1 second.  Ugh, yeah.  So I let him do that a few times then said, “close enough”, and we sped off to the next rally point.  The goal of the rally is to travel a specific distance maintaining a constant speed…a specific constant speed.  Well, I’m sure we hit that specific speed once in awhile, but we mostly ran the rally “by feel”.  We chatted with the lovely greeters at the first checkpoint, and then waited the specified 2 minutes before moving on…or at least we sat at the end of the driveway for what felt like it was about 2 minutes.  We started the counting thing, but quickly abandoned it.  The drive was soothing, and we considered the rally a complete success by arriving at the destination (the open bar) without any false turns.  Yeehaw!

 

Al handing in the winning rally sheet (“winning” is all relative, right?)

 

 

The banquet was fun, with Shawn and I leading the path to the beer, and Al later leading (well, skipping) the path to the buffet.  Stories were shared, rumors were started, and laughs were had.  We were all weary after such a full day, and were more than ready for bed at 9:30.

 

Banquet fun with Shawn, Sharmilla, Bob, and me

 

 

Table of anarchists

 

Crazy-eyes Adam and the lovely Chris

 

 

Which brings us to the next morning…while everyone else focused on tech’ing their cars and preparing for a day of driving, I was busy wrangling up a criminal mind to help me get my keys OUT of my poor, broken 911.  Al talked some of the track workers into swinging over, but their limited tool set was no help.  I’m a AAA member, so what better way to use it than in a situation such as this?  I placed the call, and 45 minutes later a tow truck arrived with two very determined individuals.  One is very young, and the other is very old, and it simply wasn’t the right combination.  They brought out one crude 911 torture device after another, making a plethora of comments and complaints that the car is too tight and difficult to break into.  Hey, we are talking the pinnacles of 70’s anti-theft technology, right?  At one point, there was one guy on each side, doing their best to scratch my car and nearly shatter the windows with all sorts of metal objects.  They ended with a finale of double-teaming my poor driver’s side window frame, bending it out while sticking this long-ass rod inside to try and turn either the window crank or door lock knob.  After gouging the chrome trim sufficiently, they gave up and left me stranded.  Another call to AAA for a locksmith was unsuccessful, although they did say they’d reimburse me if I actually found someone to come out on a Sunday and open my orange interpretation of Fort Knox.  The closest guy I could find was over 3 hours away, and literally laughed at me when I told him where I was, quickly informing me of the $110/hour emergency rate.  Joy.  I simply laid on the ground next to the car for awhile, waiting for the problem to solve itself.

 

Shawn does some early morning reading in preparation for the event

 

 

Lunch order, day 2

 

 

Patiently (well, kind of patiently) waiting for the breakfast guy to open the door

 

 

Meanwhile, Al, Shawn, and Adam were tearing up the green run group.  I made myself useful and took a gazillion shots of those characters mixing it up.  From the sidelines, it certainly looked like they were having fun!  Hearing the war stories as they rolled into the pits, made just being at the track more than worth it. 

 

Adam mixes it up with Shawn

 

 

At this point, it was around 11am, and my run group was staging for the time trial.  I had refused all offers to drive friends’ cars in the event since the weekend was already so rough on me, and the last thing I needed was to damage someone else’s car, or to go out there and embarrass myself with a horrible time.  That was my state the previous afternoon, and the entire morning.  After a lot of coercing from my buddies, I spontaneously decided that they were right, and I should at least put down a time for the time trial.  My choices of cars were Al’s bone stock 1988 Carrera with street tires, Shawn’s pseudo-modified 944 turbo with Toyo RA1s, and Adam’s 2001 slightly-tweaked Boxster with Victoracers.  I had experience with all 3 car types, as I daily drive a Boxster, owned and tracked a 968 for 6 years, and currently track a 911.  The 951 would have been the fastest, but it was also the car I had the least amount of recent experience in.  Combine that with the fact that I literally ran only 5 laps on the North Course in the past 3 years, and I wanted something as familiar as possible.  Adam was eating up track time left and right, so the Boxster was relatively unavailable.  That left the good old Targa.  We slapped my numbers on the side, and I trotted over to the time trial staging area.  After being granted permission to run a different car in the time trial, I patiently waited my turn.  I was surrounded by cup cars, whigged-out early 911s, fully-prepped 993s, a Rothman’s 944 turbo, and all sorts of loud, nasty race cars.  Since my 911 was in the modified class, this meant that I would be running this stock, street-tired Carrera directly against these monsters with no handicap advantage.  If that wasn’t enough pressure, realize I was driving a borrowed, strange car and had to immediately drive straight out and set a hot lap with only 1 lap to learn the car, learn its ideal braking points, and learn its ideal entry speeds.  I always love a challenge.

 

While the race cars roared out of the starting gate, Al’s 911 sounded more like George Jetson’s commuter spacecraft in comparison.  Normally, his 911 sounds wonderful, but it didn’t have quite the same growl in present company.  Nevertheless, I headed out, accelerating as fast as the red Targa would carry me.  I set my brake points on the conservative side, considering the street tires, and began feeling out the handling characteristics of the Targa.  It was a wonderfully neutral car with predictable handling.  I was able to safely explore the limits pushing a bit harder in each subsequent turn.  The only problem I encountered was a downshift to second for the sharp left, as I moved the lever too far to the left (where I’m used to in my 915 tranny), and Al’s G50 locked me out of 2nd altogether.  I coasted for awhile and eventually shifted to 3rd, then back to 2nd, quickly learning not to move the shifter very far to the left when going for 2nd.  The next two laps were a boatload of fun, although I was not setting any track records.  The first hot lap was a 67.9 and the second hot lap was a 67.0, which was good enough for 7th overall when factoring in the S4 class handicap.  Honestly, I was extremely happy with those times considering the situation I was thrown into with a strange car on street tires and no practice time.  Given another few laps to learn the car, I would have been able to drop it down to ~65.0 without much of an issue.  Even at 67.0, the 911 was dancing through the turns with the poor $80 street tires screaming in pain.  Yes, the time trial in Al’s Targa was a great idea, after all J

 

By now, Adam was moved up to yellow with Al closely following.  I told Adam what a big difference I experienced when moving from green to yellow, and he came back after his first yellow run with a, “wow, they are a whole lot faster than green” attitude.  Shawn was busy lapping 911 turbos in green.

 

Al fending off Adam (why is Adam always at the end?)

 

 

Of course, let’s not forget about my poor 911 with the broken hip.  We devised a plan to put the car into neutral from underneath, and push it onto the trailer, dealing with all the issues I created for myself some other time.  Meanwhile, a neighboring Porsche enthusiast with an early 911 (painted a luscious green) wandered over to check out my car.  I told him how much I loved the car, and how I’d love it even more if it wasn’t broken down with my keys locked inside.  He took his key out of his pocket and wiggled it in my door lock.  I discounted the efforts, although grateful.  Wouldn’t you know it, but 30 seconds later he OPENED MY DOOR WITH HIS KEY!!!!  None of us could believe our eyes.  Could this be a glimmer of hope in a very dreary weekend?  Perhaps a silver lining in a sky of dark clouds?  Sure, the car was still broken down, but at least I could now access all of my stuff that was also locked inside.  I even had the option of changing my shirt (which I decided against….hehe). 

 

This guy was my absolute SAVIOR!

 

 

With access to the car, I tried once again to start it.  Unfortunately, I still got nothing but a very loud “click” from the starter as it attempted to turn the flywheel.  I rounded-up Mike Daino to help diagnose the problem, and enlisted a fellow Porscheramaer to help push start it.  It didn’t take long to hear the horrible transmission sounds and banging when shifting from one gear to the next.  We parked it and discussed the possible causes of the problem.  Oh well, I’ll figure that out later.  For now, I just need to get it on the trailer and get it home.

 

Off to lunch!

 

Get it on the trailer?  That sounds like such an easy task.  After all, another Porsche came on Shawn’s trailer, so why can’t I put my Porsche on it for the ride home?  I’ll tell you why…because my car is way too damn low for Shawn’s Dakar Rally car carrying ramps.  We were presented with yet another engineering feat simply to get the car on the trailer!  We were offered tips from neighboring sympathizers, and jacked the front of the trailer up to put the trailer at more of an angle.  This still didn’t give us enough clearance, so we harassed Bob and borrowed his super long ramps…perfect for a properly lowered 911.  Bob, a new friend Dave, Shawn, and I pushed the car on the trailer while Sara had her first 911 driving experience by steering TP onto the trailer.  Of course, I had no idea how I would get the car off the trailer at home, but that was a different project.

 

Ready for the drive (ride) of shame home

 

 

As previously mentioned, Sara and Chris were at the event and wanted to get a better taste of the experience.  Shawn & Adam signed them up for the instructor charity rides, and off they went to see life at 120mph and 3 feet away from the guy in front of you.  Bob spiced things up by going two wide into the sharp left on the North Course with a confused pass signaling run group mate.  The smiles on the ladies’ faces told the tale…everyone loves riding in a race car.

 

Sara & Bob are buckled in and ready to do battle

 

 

Bob & Sara on duking it out on the North Course

 

 

Did I mention that during the entire 911 loading experience, Al decided to take a nap in his car?  A NAP!  First of all, what kind of man takes a nap at the track?  Second of all, what kind of man abandons his friends in a time of need?  Conveniently enough, he roused just as we tightened the last tie-down.

 

The configuration of the cars was a bit different on the way home than on the way there…

 

 

The day ended with no problems, and many happy GTCers & friends.  We caravanned to a Red Robin for frosty beverages and burgers, then split off & took my 911 home.  Fortunately, my driveway is at an angle so we were able to back the trailer up to it, raise the front again, and get away with the short ramps to unload the car without incident.  Safely tucked in the garage, the weekend was over.  Although filled with a flurry of unfortunate incidents and bad luck, fun was had by all and I can’t wait for next year.  Even more importantly, the track bug took a bite into Adam, Shawn, and Al, so expect to see them a lot next year!  All hail Porscherama 2005!

 

Unloading was much less of a fiasco

 

 

Safe at home, and ready for diagnosis